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  • Authorities: Conflicts, Cooperation, and Transnational Legal Theory by Nicole Roughan
  • Patricia Cochran (bio)
Nicole Roughan, Authorities: Conflicts, Cooperation, and Transnational Legal Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

In Authorities: Conflicts, Cooperation, and Transnational Legal Theory, Nicole Roughan develops a theory of relational authority to account for the legitimate authority of legal systems in circumstances of plurality. Roughan argues not only that it is possible for more than one legal authority to legitimately bind subjects in the same time and place but also that the legitimacy of public authorities is measured in part by the way they relate to each other. According to the relational authority account, legal authorities create and sustain their legitimacy by cultivating certain kinds of relationships with other authorities. Roughan develops this thesis through an interdisciplinary engagement with analytical jurisprudence and legal pluralism. The book is a rigorous attempt to bring different literatures into meaningful dialogue with each other, demonstrating in practice some of the dialogical demands of the relative approach that Roughan advocates.

For feminist legal scholars, Authorities offers a useful theoretical framework that can be used to assess the legitimacy of claims to legal authority in the context of unequal political power. Methodologically, the book also provides inspiration for allowing conventional and critical approaches to enter into conversation with each other. Even though Roughan's work is global in scope (and focuses on examples drawn from international, European, and New Zealand law), these frameworks and methodological approaches might be brought to bear on a wide variety of substantive questions. In Canada, the theoretical and methodological resources developed in Authorities are of particular value in the wake of the Calls to Action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the attendant need for more adequate dialogue and critique in the service of building just relationships between Indigenous and settler communities and legal orders.

Roughan begins by identifying the empirical reality of plurality as the background for her work: law operates in multiple places, through multiple institutions, with interaction and overlap between officials, systems, and norms. Legal authority is claimed in the context of state, international, and other legal orders. And, yet, she argues, "somehow, despite this messiness and multiplicity, law still can, or at least claims to be able to, create obligations for its subjects. Despite its plurality, law still [End Page 211] has, or at least claims, some kind of authority."1 Roughan argues that some of the theoretical and practical dilemmas that arise out of the reality of legal plurality (such as, for example, the question of what to do when the directives of overlapping authorities seem to conflict), are really a matter of confusion over law's authority and when it is legitimate.2 The question at the heart of the book is "when can authority be legitimate in circumstances of its plurality?"3

To respond to this question, Roughan turns to multiple literatures. Most importantly, she engages with analytical jurisprudence on the concept of authority as well as a variety of literatures on legal pluralism and transnational law. Roughan argues that these literatures, taken together, have failed to adequately account for the possibility of legitimate authority in circumstances of plurality. That is, conventional jurisprudence provides for various detailed normative justifications of legitimate authority, but generally presumes a world of singular public authority, in the form of state law. Literatures on legal pluralism take seriously the reality of multiple legal orders but do not provide a way to explain how these legal orders are authoritative or how they create morally binding obligations on their subjects. Taking an approach that may resonate with feminist scholars, Roughan argues that one of the reasons this gap is problematic is that it allows pluralist jurisprudence to escape a normative interrogation of legal authority, relying instead on general descriptions of de facto exercises of power, rather than on legitimate exercises of authority.4 This aspect of Roughan's argument may speak to feminist scholars because of its attentiveness to relations of power and the role of power in relation to normative claims about legitimacy and justice.

Authorities is structured in four parts. In the first part, Roughan provides an overview of the concepts of authority...


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pp. 211-215
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